Why you should care
Because if you don’t know who Hannibal Buress is, you’re already late to the party.
With an endearingly boyish smile but a sharp-enough edge that you don’t want to catch his ire, Hannibal Buress is at his best when he’s freestyling — usually at someone else’s expense. Indeed, the man whom some are calling today’s hottest comic has made a big name for himself on the character defects of others.
While a mainstay on the sitcom Broad City and a regular on the late-night circuit, Buress didn’t become a must-know name until last year, when an audience member recorded a clip of him skewering Bill Cosby during a stand-up set. Here’s a snippet of the epic tirade, which ultimately brought down the onetime venerable Dr. Huxtable: “Pull your pants up, Black people. I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom. Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So … brings you down a couple notches.”
Buress didn’t stop there, though. Earlier this year on a Comedy Central roast, the 32-year-old Chicago native, who has a baritone voice and always seems to look stoned, took aim at Justin Bieber. “Actually, you should thank me for participating in this extremely transparent attempt to be more likable in the public eye,” Buress lambasted the singer. “And I hope it doesn’t work.” There’s more. He made headlines again in May for his Tinder takedown as host of the Webby Awards: “Tinder proved that the most important quality in another person is not their personality, but their proximity.”
On the night I catch his show in Oakland, California, no one is safe. Not even the venue, which he justifiably likened to a startup that needs a new Kickstarter campaign. And the girl texting in the front row? She got her phone snatched and text messages broadcast. “This is the dumbest shit I’ve ever read,” Buress announced. But what makes Buress, once a writer on 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live, so good live is the relationship he has with the audience, a bond he’s been building over the past 13 years. “They start to know you in a more intimate way,” he says. “They get inside jokes. With the Internet and TV now, you can build that deeper connection.”
Not that Buress’s stand-up is particularly deep. It’s mostly slice-of-life satire with the usual talking points — chlamydia and sex. “How many people do I have to sleep with before I propose to my ex-girlfriend?” he asks the all-white (this is Oakland, after all), hipster-fab audience that reflects just how mainstream the star is these days. But even when Buress makes a flat joke, by the time he throws back his head and his sturdy stage voice gives way to a self-amused chuckle, you can’t help but laugh with him.
Buress, who tours with his own personal disc jockey, likes to close his shows with the “Gibberish Rap,” which some say is his greatest contribution to comedy. While the improv pundit lays down undecipherable lyrics, ballerinas in tutus appear out of nowhere and twirl around him. “It’s just fun and weird,” he says. And it perfectly sums up this rising comedy king: caustic but likable, simple but damn amusing.